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Bill Thayer

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Jesse Fell

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two-and-a‑half‑story wood frame house, with a steeply gabled roof. The ground floor has a bow window and two doors, each under a small porch on either side of it. In front of the house, by the sidewalk, a boulder with a bronze plaque. It is the Richard Hovey House in Normal, Illinois.]

Richard Hovey House, Normal, Built 1850's.

 p56  A Literary Shrine

I am fevered with the sunset,

I am fretful with the bay,

For the wander-thirst is on me

And my soul is in Cathay.

There's a schooner in the offing,

With her topsails shot with fire,

And my heart has gone aboard her

For the Islands of Desire.

I must forth again tomorrow!

With the sunset I must be

Hull down on the trail of rapture

In the wonder of the Sea.

It was in an unpretentious, two‑story frame house in the university town of Normal that the man who wrote the above well-known poem — and many others equally well known — was born in 1864. That house still stands and is now a memorial to Richard Hovey, whose lively lyrics, expressing the spirit of vagabondia, charmed Americans of a generation ago. On the well-kept lawn in front of the house rests a boulder with a historical marker on it explaining that Hovey was born here on May 4, 1864, and that he died in New York on February 24, 1900.

The fact that Richard Hovey was born in this dwelling is enough to distinguish it, but it holds additional interest, especially to Illinoisans, as the abode of Richard's father, Charles Edward Hovey, a pioneer Illinois teacher, first principal of the famed Illinois State Normal University at Normal and a major general in the Civil War. Richard's mother, Harriette Farnham Spofford Hovey, was also an outstanding educator of her time.

When the future poet was born in this house his father was convalescing from wounds received in the battle of Arkansas Post. General Hovey's command at this encounter, the 33d Regiment of Illinois Volunteers, consisted largely of students and teachers of the Illinois State Normal University, and because of this it became known as the "Normal Regiment," and sometimes as the "Brains Regiment."

Only three years before the outbreak of the war between the states Charles Hovey had helped to establish the teachers' college. He was then a leading educator of Illinois, and in this capacity had an important  p57 part in prevailing upon the state legislature to establish a college for the proper training of common-school teachers. With one assistant and forty-three students Hovey opened the college at Normal, two miles north of Bloomington, in October, 1857, and remained head of the Institution until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Although Charles Hovey played an important role in the educational history of Illinois, he was not a native of the state. He was born in Thetford, Orange County, Vermont, on April 26, 1827. After  p58 his graduation from Dartmouth College he came west to Illinois and settled at Peoria in 1854, where he received an appointment that year as principal of a boys' high school. Two years later he was named superintendent of Peoria's public schools.

"An able administrator and an energetic, progressive educator," says the Dictionary of American Biography, "he soon made his influence felt throughout the state. He placed Peoria schools upon a firm foundation and acquired an enviable reputation as a popular lecturer on educational topics. In 1856 he was elected president of the Illinois State Teachers' Association and in 1857 became a member of the first Illinois board of education."

It was some time soon after he became principal of the college at Normal that Hovey built his home, within walking distance of the college campus. Here were born his three sons, including Richard, and here he and his wife welcomed and entertained some of the best-known Illinois educators of their time. Still standing on its original site, the house's address today is 202 West Mulberry Avenue.

Soon after the close of the Civil War the Hoveys sold their Normal house, moved to Washington, D. C., with their children, and there spent the remainder of their days. In the capital city Charles Hovey took up the practice of law, which he had earlier studied, and his wife engaged in educational activities. Death came to Hovey there in 1897. His son Richard, meanwhile, was rapidly gaining fame as a poet after completing his studies at Dartmouth.

At Dartmouth he was the college poet and students there still sing his "Men of Dartmouth." One literary critic, Professor Percy H. Boynton, said of Hovey's college verse: "He wrote for Dartmouth a body of tributary verse which is as distinguished as are Holmes' Harvard poems. And he wrote for his college fraternity songs and odes which are so distinguished as wholly to transcend the occasions for which they were prepared."

A few years after leaving college Richard Hovey met another poet, Bliss Carman, and as a result of that meeting the two afterward collaborated in the series of "Vagabondia" books of verse which, as one critic put it, "took the country by storm." Hovey also turned out many volumes of his own poetry, and his total work in this field made him one of the leading poets of his time.​a

In view of Hovey's widespread fame it was but natural for admirers of his writings properly to identify the house in which he was born. It is now one of the sights of Normal and is often visited by persons interested in the literary shrines of Illinois.

Thayer's Note:

a A representative selection of Hovey's verse, from Along the Trail, his first published collection, may be found, and read with pleasure, at Elfinspell.

Men of Dartmouth is still being sung, sort of, in 2007. It remains the alma mater of Dartmouth but has been tinkered with in the interest of gender adjustment. Hovey's original lyrics may be found at the Dartmouth Review, in "Lost Songs of Old Dartmouth" (followed by Eleazar Wheelock, also by him, although he doesn't rate so much as a credit on that page); for the history of what is now just called "Alma Mater", and the not completely successful inclusive version, see the College's page.

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Page updated: 2 Apr 16